- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota state senator resigned Friday from an outside job leading a municipal association that lobbies at the Capitol, despite a ruling from ethics regulators that it wouldn’t constitute a conflict of interest.

Democratic Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm gave up the executive director post at the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, a job he took in January. He had faced significant blowback for taking a role some saw as overlapping improperly with his elected work.

“While I am able to perform the duties of both jobs, the distraction of holding both jobs has become untenable,” Tomassoni wrote in a resignation letter.

His announcement came hours after the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure board issued an advisory opinion that said accepting the job wouldn’t pose a conflict itself. But regulators said actions he might take as a lawmaker pertaining to the group could trigger new examinations.

Campaign board executive director Gary Goldsmith said it was conceivable regulators could be asked to revisit the topic if certain votes are called into question.

“Until a public official does something in the public official’s capacity that raises a question about the relationship between the official position and some other interest, no question would come before the board,” he said.

Tomassoni, a 23-year lawmaker who is also chairman of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, wasn’t present at Friday’s meeting. The senator said earlier this week that the issue was “overblown.” He has said he didn’t intend to lobby fellow lawmakers on behalf of the group, nor would he take the executive director’s $6,500 monthly salary while the Legislature was in session. He insisted he could recuse himself on votes that would pose conflicts.

The association is a collection of Iron Range cities and school districts designed to speak with one voice on issues of economic development, taxes and other public policy matters. Its past executive director, who stepped down last year, was a registered lobbyist.

Republicans have argued that the group’s aim and Tomassoni’s legislative duties were incompatible. They hadn’t ruled out filing an ethics complaint.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Tomassoni made the right decision.

“It’s too bad it took this long for him to figure it out,” Hann said.

Minnesota lawmakers are technically part-time elected officials. Many hold outside jobs as farmers, teachers, lawyers, business owners and other professions. Legislators sometimes opt out of votes to avoid the appearance of a conflict.


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